The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

From Positive to Negative Word of Mouth (WOM) in 10 Minutes on a Saturday Morning, Windsor Cleaners vs. Jiffy Lube

Positive and Negative Word of Mouth (WOM)Word of Mouth Marketing (WOM) is undeniably powerful. I’ve written about the power of WOM in the past (Boar's Head, Pabst Blue Ribbon, etc.) and I still believe that organic word of mouth is one of the most powerful ways to grow your business. And that's especially true for small businesses. Well, a few weeks ago I was able to see an example of how one business could foster positive WOM and then how another company could generate negative WOM, and all in 10 minutes on a Saturday morning. Yes, I keep a keen eye out for things like this, but it was amazing to see how I could feel so good about one company and then so bad about another in such as short period of time! After I got home that Saturday morning, I started to think about my two experiences and wanted to share them here. I’ll break down both experiences and then give you some questions to think about regarding your own company or business.

Experience 1: Fostering Positive WOM
I’ve been going to Windsor Cleaners in Princeton, NJ for a number of years now. I'll start with some some basic reasons why I go there. First, they provide an outstanding service. I know, a novel idea, right? Providing a great product or service is obviously the foundation for generating positive WOM. Next, they provide excellent customer service. Third, they go the proverbial extra mile for their customers (which is more than just providing excellent customer service and you'll read more about this below). So for me, Windsor Cleaners is starting with a solid foundation. In all the years I’ve been taking my clothes there, I have never left unhappy. In addition, they know me as soon as I walk in the door, entering my account number in their system without me having to say a single digit. I like that. I also typically bring my kids with me when dropping off my clothes, and the employees at Windsor Cleaners are always great with them. And you can tell it’s genuine, and not the BS, “oh how cute” that you hear from some people. So in a nutshell, they provide a great dry cleaning service and provide excellent customer service. Now for my Saturday morning story.

A few weeks ago, I walked in holding my 2 year old son in one arm, a pile of clothes in another arm, and I was in a hurry. I also brought in one of my winter jackets during this drop off, and I quickly checked my pockets to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. I received my ticket, said goodbye and was on my way. I ended up taking my son to another store in the same shopping center as Windsor Cleaners. So I’m on line in the store and someone taps my shoulder. It’s one of the women from Windsor Cleaners holding my $225 pair of sunglasses. I must have left them in my coat. The woman from Windsor Cleaners tracked me down (without knowing where I was going) to make sure I had my sunglasses. That’s awesome. How easy would it be for her to just put them aside and wait for me to come in next week? Or worse, how easy would it be for someone to just take them, right? The people at Windsor Cleaners never would, but I can’t say that for everyone in this world… This was a great example of a small business going the extra mile and fostering positive word of mouth.

The Positive Impact on Windsor Cleaners
In my opinion, Windsor Cleaners is doing everything right as a small business. They provide an excellent dry cleaning service, they are nice to their customers, their employees seem happy, and they go the extra mile for their customers. Why wouldn’t you like them?? By the way, they aren’t the least expensive dry cleaning business in my area. But I don’t care. It would take a lot to get me to stop going to Windsor Cleaners… And as I’ve said in previous posts, I’m a WOM machine. If I like something, you can’t shut me up about it. I blog about it, tell people at work, tell my friends and family, etc. So, you bet I tell people about Windsor Cleaners. It’s easy… I want them to succeed.

--Next Stop, Jiffy Lube For An Oil Change (Just 5 minutes down the road.)--

Experience 2: Creating Negative Word of Mouth
I pulled into Jiffy Lube to simply get a fast oil change and be on my way. I got out of my car and entered the building, and then waited for someone to check my car. It wasn’t long before I heard, “Mr. Gabe, please follow me.” and that’s when my stomach turned… I’ll stop for a second and ask you if you already know what I’m referring to? I bet some of you do… Actually, I know some of you do (more on that soon).

Are you ready for a Jiffy sales pitch?
And the game begins… I’m holding my 2 year old son and I follow the person from Jiffy Lube out to my car. Now I’m in front of a monitor in the middle of Jiffy Lube’s garage. How nice. :) In a matter of seconds, you are being pitched all sorts of products and services for your car, from the infamous air filter, maybe a cabin filter, something about your fuel injectors, and then some type of engine flush. Really?? First of all, if I was to have something like that done, it probably wouldn’t be at Jiffy Lube. They rush you through the process, hoping for the uncomfortable, “ok, I guess so”. They pull out your air filter to show you how “dirty” it is, and push you just hard enough that you feel like you’re being swindled. I hate that feeling, and I hate their process. They point to the monitor and show you some data about how your car hasn’t gotten this in six months or how you haven’t done that in one year. And of course they don’t tell you pricing while taking you through all that’s wrong with your vehicle. You actually have to ask for pricing (if you’re even lucky enough to retain half of what they threw your way.) I hear this pitch every time I get my oil changed, and to be honest, I'm tired of it.

Forcing Customers Through This Process Is Not Good For Jiffy Lube…
The process I just explained above is where Jiffy Lube goes wrong. I don’t feel confident that I need most of what they are pitching. Do I need some of it? Probably so, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t trust them. I don’t know if I’ve ever witnessed a process that makes me feel so negative, so quickly. Then you’re forced into the awkward situation of declining what they just rattled off, and it’s even a little embarrassing. I can’t imagine that anyone at Jiffy Lube would want it to go down this way. Do you?

Breaking This Down Marketing-Wise
Does Jiffy Lube provide a good oil change service? I think so. I’ve never really had a problem. Their pricing is ok and their employees are generally nice. But, I don’t get a good feeling about going to Jiffy Lube. I think it all comes down to the cheesy sales pitch you get every time you bring your car in… Does anyone in marketing at Jiffy Lube understand how this impacts their brand? I don’t feel loyal to Jiffy Lube. Actually, I could go somewhere else for an oil change 3000 miles from now and not even give it a second thought. By the way, if you’re thinking that an additional air filter can’t generate a lot of revenue, you’re wrong. Start doing the math based on how many locations they have any how many estimated customers get oil changes each day. It sure adds up, but at what long term cost to the company? Jiffy Lube might have generated an extra $20 this time, but what if they lose my business forever? That would be thousands of dollars that Jiffy Lube would stand to lose (and just from one customer).

So Jiffy Lube, please stop the madness. Go visit your locations and see what goes on. I’ll guarantee that you’ll want to change how the process works. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make sure people have the right information and get the right products or services, but there has to be a better way to do it without making people feel like they are being ripped off. Actually, go to Windsor Cleaners and see how they treat their customers. :)

The Power of the Web Tells Me That…
I’m not the only one that feels this way. I found out that many others feel the same exact way. I tweeted about my last experience on Twitter and received some quick replies and direct messages from others that don’t like the process either. It’s funny, I didn’t mention what was pitched and their messages all revolved around the air filter sales pitch! I found that interesting…so I started doing some Google searches. That’s when I found this, this, and this. Oh yeah, and this, this, and this. Uh, an entire site dedicated to Jiffy Lube problems and it ranks #1 for jiffy lube air filter? (see screenshot below) And there were dozens of more listings too. By the way, enter Jiffy Lube Air Filter in Google Blog Search. You’ll find some interesting stories.

Search for Jiffy Lube Air Filter on Google

Let me tell you, if I worked at Jiffy Lube, this would be one of the first things I fixed. They seriously need a Customer Service Czar, and now. Someone who comes in with guns blazing and fixes this problem. The power of WOM is undeniable, but the fact that Jiffy Lube has a reputation management problem is also undeniable. It actually makes me wonder what’s getting in the way of fixing the problem… So, the next time you hear a pitch for an air filter at Jiffy Lube, think twice. Maybe you need it, but maybe you don’t.

Think About Your Business…
Is there any part of your business that actually annoys your customers? Do you help generate negative word of mouth? Take a hard look at all your customer touch points, ask your customers for real feedback, and change anything that can be generating negative word of mouth NOW.
So I think it's clear that Jiffy Lube can learn a lot from Windsor Cleaners about customer service. But more importantly, how much can you learn from them?


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Monday, January 12, 2009

Check Your Search Engine Rankings, Why Your Competitors in Organic Search Might Not Always Be Who You Think They Are

Finding your actual competition in organic search.When beginning a new SEO project, there are some questions that always come up during initial meetings. How does organic search work? Which keywords should we target? Do we need to redesign our entire website? And…how do we compare to our competition in natural search? I’m going to focus on the last question in this post, because there’s an important point I’d like to make. Whenever I ask someone who their competition is in natural search, I typically hear the names of their core competitors (business-wise). Although that’s true in a pure business sense, that’s not necessarily the case in natural search. So, I often run a competitive position analysis to determine where a site ranks in the search engines as compared to its competition. It helps you (and your client) understand who their actual competition is and then sets the stage for deeper competitive analysis.

Don’t drop names with Google…
Outside of search, you might be able to throw a big brand name around and get somewhere. Unfortunately, the search engines don’t necessarily care. That’s one of the reasons you’ll see all types of websites ranking for highly competitive keywords. Actually, I’d argue that some smaller online businesses can easily outmaneuver larger websites and companies in SEO. When it comes down to it, the engines care about quality content, a good user experience, relevancy, and popularity. In other words, create outstanding content that can be easily crawled and indexed, optimize that content based on keyword research, make it easy for your visitors to find and use your content, and if those visitors find that content valuable, you might gain important inbound links (AKA votes). If that happens, subsequent rankings can follow… BTW, you’ll notice I didn’t mention that you need to be a big brand or a multi-billion dollar company to do this. That’s part of the reason blogs have become so powerful. They give the small guy a voice…and that small guy can often outrank large companies in the SERPs. Empowering, yes? Scary to large businesses and big brands, you bet.

Seriously? That’s My Competition in Natural Search??
Yes, I hear this often (with a few other words that I cannot put on my blog!) Once you run a position analysis using competitive keywords (based on keyword research), you and your client can clearly see who owns the SERPs for those keywords. Sure, the rankings can change over time, but you have a snapshot of which sites are ranking at that point in time. Then, you can take the next step and perform a competitive analysis to help you determine what type of content ranks, how the websites structure their content, and which sites link to them. Remember, quality and relevant inbound links are the lifeblood of SEO.

Let’s take a look at a few examples:
Note, since search engine rankings change often, you might not see the same exact results that I did during my test.

Flatscreen TVs
HD TV’s are obviously hot, so let’s check out a competitive keyword like flatscreen tvs:

Google search rankings for flatscreen tvs.

This is a great example. There are only 2 manufacturers in the top 10 (Samsung at #7 and Westinghouse Digital at #10, which isn't visible in the screenshot above). More on Samsung in a minute. The rest of the sites include reviews, news stories, a buying guide, an e-commerce website, etc. I’ll bet if you walked into LG, Panasonic or Samsung and asked who they compete with in natural search for a keyword like flatscreen tv's, you would hear the other big brands and not the sites in this list. Note, Samsung was pretty smart with creating the page that ranks on their website. Someone at Samsung (cough, cough, SEO guy), understood what people are searching for and provided that content on (Pagerank 8...) There are other good things about this page that I'd like to cover, but that’s for another post. :)

Cabernet Sauvignon
Any wine drinkers out there? Imagine you owned a winery and had an award winning cab? You would probably want to rank highly, right? Let’s see which sites rank for the keyword cabernet sauvignon:

Google search rankings for cabernet sauvignon.

Wow, I’m not exactly a wine connoisseur, but I don’t see any popular wine brands here (other than in the shopping results, which I'll tackle in a minute). You have Wikipedia (big surprise),, an article about Obama, and then a spattering of other wine-related educational pages. Needless to say, this list of websites is probably not what a leading winery would expect to find ranking for cabernet sauvignon.

Enter Universal Search: Also, in the middle of the page you will see shopping results listed. This is Universal Search in action, where Google is mixing additional types of results within the organic rankings. More on this below, but you should start to think about all the different ways you can rank in organic search beyond traditional webpage content. For example, video, images, news, shopping, local, etc.

HD Video Camera
HD Video is all the rage, let’s take a look at the keyword HD Video Camera:

Google search rankings for hd video camera.

Very interesting. There’s only one big brand in the list (Canon at #4). The rest of the list includes reviews at cnet, an announcement from, two YouTube videos (more on this in a minute), some news results, and then Again, if you walked into Sony, Panasonic, or Canon, do you think they would guess that they are competing against YouTube videos? Probably not. On that note, you can see Universal Search in action here again, with two video thumbnails in the organic results (at least at the time of my test). One is from Tiger Direct and the other is from Chris Pirillo! Great job Chris, you outrank major manufacturers of HD video cameras. :)

So, if you haven’t started thinking about Universal Search and the impact that it can have, just take a closer look at the screenshot above. I think you’ll change your mind. There's also a news result right under the video thumbnails. Both the video results and news results are powerful, especially since they have thumbnails associated with them. If you are interested in learning more about optimizing your video content, then check out my post about Video SEO.

Fuel Efficient Cars
Based on the spike in gasoline prices during 2008, let’s check out a search for fuel efficient cars:

Google search rankings for fuel efficient cars.

Holy smokes, there’s not 1 car manufacturer in the list. Not 1. I highly doubt that Ford, Honda, Toyota, Chrysler, and GM would take me seriously if I walked in and said that they compete with a government agency, a green publication, and a newspaper in natural search! That said, you need content on your site in order to rank... I was shocked to see several car manufacturer websites without a single occurrence of the keyword fuel efficient cars. I had to check a few times to believe it...

You will also see another example of Universal Search in the screenshot above. Google is providing news results mixed in the organic rankings (in the middle of the page). This is just another reason to start thinking about all of the ways to rank in organic search (and the different types of content you can optimize). All of your digital assets come into play with universal search.

So, are you ready to conduct a position analysis?
OK, I think you get the point. Performing a position analysis is an important step in understanding your actual competition in natural search. I would begin the process by identifying your competitive keywords via extensive keyword research and then determine where you rank against your competition for those keywords. Then, once you know the competition, you should complete a thorough competitive analysis to see how you can strengthen your organic search power and increase your search engine rankings.

Good luck and be ready for some interesting looks as you tell people who they really compete with in natural search. :)


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